Did Stevenson Really Sleep Here?

Copyright © 2017 by Lindy Perez

In the archives at Mayo Hayes O’Donnell Library in Monterey, I discovered several typed pages taken from the diary of Charles Warren Stoddard, a writer, traveler, and friend of Robert Louis Stevenson. The two men first met in San Francisco in 1880. Stoddard had stayed in Monterey with artist friends Jules Tavernier and Joseph Strong and enjoyed meals at the bohemian restaurant of Jules Simoneau the year before Stevenson arrived.

Twenty-five years later, Stoddard returned to Monterey and kept a diary which was later transcribed by Amelie Elkinton, a curator with California State Parks for 12 years. In legible cursive, Stoddard described several visits with Jules Simoneau at his home on 456 Van Buren Street, a house which still stands and today is part of the Middlebury Institute for International Studies. Then in his eighties, the retired restaurateur eagerly welcomed visitors who wished to hear about his friendship with RLS. Stoddard was working on an article about Stevenson and wanted to clear up his confusion about RLS and his stay in Monterey during the fall of 1879. One question, which persists to this day, was whether or not Stevenson actually slept at the old adobe turned boarding house, operated by the Girardin family. In 1905, when Stoddard kept his diary, the building had already been renamed the Stevenson House. Here are a few entries:

Sunday, August 6, 1905…….Came back to the Hotel past the Stevenson House. Jules Simoneau tells me that RLS occupied one small room in that house and Dr. Heintz another; that the house was then as it is now, a cheap lodging house. Yet I got the impression that Louis had five rooms with verandah; that the whole house was occupied by Heinz, and that there was more or less style there. Alas!

Wednesday, August 9, 1905……..I got into the Stevenson House today. O! What a dismal place. RLS, in one of his letters from Monterey says: “Then home to my great airy rooms, with five windows opening on a balcony.” Was this a pleasantry, or was it an after-thought of his editors? …..His was the smallest room in the house, with one window, single bed – a very small room indeed. There is no balcony to the house. I would really like to pass one night in his room, but the room is taken by a musician who plays all night and sleeps in the daytime so I could not get a peep into it.

Thursday, August 10, 1905 …….It was a dusty walk to Simoneau’s. The garden gate stood open….I started to enter the garden and Mrs. Simoneau said, “Yes, do go in to see Mr. Simoneau; you will find him there. Just call him.” There he was, with his same old welcome – a warm one, from a man who totters on his feet but whose eyes are full of life and merriment….I told him of my walk to the Stevenson House and my interview with the landlady. “She pointed out the wrong room as his room was the last one, at the edge of the passage, on the right hand side. After that is the open shed-like room and from it the stairs descend to the garden to the outside of the house.” I wish I had looked into it. She was letting rooms by the night to anyone: 50 cents for one, a dollar for two! No questions asked. A dreary place it is, yet not without interest.

Here we have a precise, unambiguous testimony from Jules Simoneau communicated to and almost immediately recorded by Charles Warren Stoddard. There was no one more familiar with Stevenson’s coming and going in Monterey than Simoneau. When RLS was too ill to take his meals at the restaurant, Simoneau went to his room and helped nurse him back to health. What seems to have fueled this long debate is that RLS stayed at several places in Monterey, including the Leese Boarding Home and the home of Dr. Heintz on Alvarado Street. Dr. Heintz himself moved from place to place. When the doctor was new in town, he first resided at the Leese home; then after his marriage to the daughter of Juan and Manuela Girardin, he stayed with his in-laws at their boarding house. The artists who came to Monterey in the 1870’s, in keeping with their bohemian spirit, stayed wherever there was low rent and high jinks. Stevenson’s mobility was not out of the ordinary, although his fragile health was.

Anne Issler, the curator at Stevenson House from 1957 to 1962, spent years researching Stevenson’s stay in California. In addition to Jules Simoneau, she identified seven others who knew first or second hand that Stevenson lodged part of his time in Monterey at the building we now call Stevenson House. Some historical records should be questioned, but the diary of Charles Warren Stoddard has made a believer of me.

Lindy Perez

March 2012

Copyright © 2017 by Lindy Perez